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CarGo breakout could give Rockies big boost

Outfielder starting to turn struggles around as Colorado eyes postseason
MLB.com

DENVER -- Carlos Gonzalez's season-long offensive woes have taken a toll on him.

Gonzalez has never struggled this much without injury. His numbers have ticked up recently, but the Rockies -- who have lost nine of 13 -- saw their cushion in the National League Wild Card race fall to 3 1/2 games with Sunday's 8-4 loss to the Brewers. Gonzalez's improvement could help stop the slide.

DENVER -- Carlos Gonzalez's season-long offensive woes have taken a toll on him.

Gonzalez has never struggled this much without injury. His numbers have ticked up recently, but the Rockies -- who have lost nine of 13 -- saw their cushion in the National League Wild Card race fall to 3 1/2 games with Sunday's 8-4 loss to the Brewers. Gonzalez's improvement could help stop the slide.

Being dropped to sixth and seventh in the batting order has been a big adjustment, Gonzalez said.

"It's hard, man. I've always been aggressive my entire career," Gonzalez said. "I'm a guy that goes there and tries to take hacks. ... You can't be too aggressive, because they're going to pitch around you. … You have to wait for the right pitch to fire. Sometimes you don't get fastballs on fastball counts like I used to."

What's missing is Gonzalez's power. He hit 40 home runs two years ago and 25 in 2016, but he has just eight this season. Gonzalez's .366 slugging percentage is his lowest since his 2008 rookie season with the Athletics.

To compensate, Gonzalez said he has been trying to draw more walks. He pointed to his four-pitch walk in the sixth inning Sunday as a good example.

"I'm facing a really tough pitcher [in Brewers reliever Jacob Barnes], and he decided to throw me balls to see if I chased," Gonzalez said. "I put [together] a really good at-bat, but it's way different than when you have a guy like [Nolan] Arenado hitting behind you when you're hitting three or four than when you're hitting low in the lineup."

Gonzalez's problems may stem from mechanical issues in his swing, assistant hitting coach Jeff Salazar said. For much of the season, Gonzalez dragged his hands, elongating his swing and making it tougher to attack the middle-in fastballs he used to feast on. But opponents still pitch him carefully.

"When CarGo comes up, I don't think they're like, 'Oh, this is the seven-hole CarGo' vs. the three- or four-hole version," Salazar said. "I very much believe when other teams see that CarGo's hitting, they're like, 'Don't let this guy beat you.'"

Gonzalez has started to get it together since July 18, posting a .327/.367/.465 slash line with two home runs and eight doubles.

Video: MIL@COL: CarGo lines a two-run homer to left-center

Gonzalez is also making more -- and harder -- contact in that span. Per Statcast™, his hard-hit rate -- balls with an exit velocity higher than 95 mph -- is 39 percent, and his contact rate is 63.6 percent, up from 31.4 and 52.7 percent, respectively.

If he keeps it up, Gonzalez would provide a huge boost as Colorado chases a postseason spot.

"The CarGo that we know, he should hit three, four, five, and hopefully this string of games gets him there," Rockies manager Bud Black said. "We need him for sure. We need him here the last six weeks, and if he's CarGo, he can really get hot."

Max Gelman is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver.

Colorado Rockies, Carlos Gonzalez